The dangers of global warming do not only affect melting ice and rising oceans but also what the melting releases into the seas. Recently, mercury was detected deep inside the Arctic’s ice. Tons of it.
Mercury is a poisonous heavy metal, but what made it so scary was that the melting permafrost could release the toxin. Inevitably, some will pollute the food chain. Mercury accumulates in fish and animals and, if consumed by humans, could have dire effects.
Before this discovery, scientists thought permafrost held little to no mercury. The sobering truth came when calculations estimated around 56 million liters (15 million gal) of the stuff. This makes it the biggest mercury stockpile in the world.
It appears to have been deposited over thousands of years by currents and winds. While frozen in the depths of the Arctic, the toxin remained harmless. But thawing ice means that some will seep into the ground and get absorbed by plants and bacteria. Part of the mercury will also end up in the water and atmosphere.
Scientists are not sure when this disaster will strike or how much mercury could spill into the food cycle. Nevertheless, they agree that the event will have global repercussions for humans.
From storybook snowcapped mountains to the poles, Earth’s cold spots make for an interesting experience. Ski antics and monster sightings aside, ice fields can produce things that scientists have never seen before, clues about history, and even far-reaching disasters that are born in the Arctic.
Tourists travel to remote places to witness fantastic events, while icebergs and shelves behave in ways that scientists cannot explain. But the frozen depths can also hold some of the most terrifying discoveries and disappearances in the natural world.